06 February, 2010

Kitsch As Kitsch Can

Back in Chinatown once again. We're approaching Lunar New Year (The Year of the Tiger) on the 14th of February. I visit this place a couple of times a month and I always manage to find some new corner that fascinates. San Francisco's Chinatown is unique in the U.S. both in scale and architecture. Actually, there's nothing like it in China, let alone the rest of the world. A product of post 1906 Earthquake and Fire civic boosterism, the area abounds in some very stylized and "exotic" interpretations of "Chinese" architecture. This could be interpreted as inauthentic if it weren't so remarkably interesting in itself. Seeing as the area is still predominantly Chinese (unlike the "Italian" North Beach a few block away which is mostly populated by non-Italians ), one can perceive all of this as a legitimate expression of Chinese-American culture. Sure, the tourists gawk and saunter along Grant Avenue, but notice, the next time you're there, that many of those tourists are Asian. They're happily snapping photos of something rather extraordinary. 21st century Asia is developing so quickly that's it's wiping out huge portions of its 19th and early 20th century urban landscape. People from all over the world will increasingly seek out this human-scaled, early 20th century reminder of a vanishing world. Could the developers of 1907 Chinatown envision Chinese tourists of the year 2010 traveling thousands of miles to a place that's, ironically, more "Chinese" than the increasingly generic "global" cities they leave behind? I doubt it.
Here's one of my favorite corners. Commercial and Grant. From all angles it's got a great look. There's a photo in the window of the Eastern Bakery of President Clinton enjoying a bun. Lovely.

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